WASHINGTON DC —
Zimbabwe has dismissed as a ‘cheap publicity stunt’, efforts by a United States lobbyist, Gregory Turner, to force President Robert Mugabe to testify in a criminal case in which he is being charged for illegally lobbying Washington to remove targeted sanctions targeting the 90-year old Mr. Mugabe and members of his inner circle.
Turner, a businessman, wants a Chicago federal judge to force Mr. Mugabe to give videotaped evidence in his defence when the President attends the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.
“It’s a publicity stunt but President Mugabe is protected by U.N. statutes,” said the senior government official who did not want to be named, adding Harare will not lose sleep over the issue.
Turner’s lawyer, Michael Leonard, argues Mr. Mugabe is central to the case.
In a court filing Thursday, Leonard argued that his client won’t have a fair trial unless U.S. district judge, Elaine Bucklo, orders Mr. Mugabe to give a deposition when he visits New York.
Turner’s alleged accomplice, a Chicago activist and restaurateur, Prince Asiel Ben Israel, was last month sentenced to seven months in prison for violating U.S. law by lobbying on behalf of President Mugabe and his administration, which is under U.S. economic sanctions.
Turner and Ben Israel, 73, were promised US$3.4 million by Harare and admitted receiving a down payment of $90.000 in 2008 at the height of Zimbabwe's economic crisis.
Efforts to get a comment from Leonard and Mr. Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, were futile.
But University of Zimbabwe law professor and leader of the opposition National Constitutional Assembly, Lovemore Madhuku, says international law protects Mr. Mugabe from testifying in such cases.
“I think that is just not useful,” said Madhuku. “They are trying to get publicity around the matter. In terms of the U.S. law the crime that he is facing does not require President Mugabe to testify.”